Outdoor-oriented online vacation rentals take off in Maine



BRISTOL – Two years ago, Dana Herrick wanted to build a cabin as a pilot project for a timber frame housing business that he was planning to start after years of working for others.

Creating a rustic, wooded vacation rental near Maine’s iconic coast was not part of the original plan – until a friend mentioned to Herrick and his wife, Cacy, that they should rent their cabin off-grid on Hipcamp. The online vacation rental company is similar to Airbnb, but aimed at camping and outdoor enthusiasts.

Now, for the second year in a row, the family’s Pod Cabin, with its 15 to 20 foot cathedral ceiling, was booked weekly in July and August.

“We’re thinking of building another on our land now,” said Dana Herrick, as he stood in his woodland a few hours before the guests arrived on an August day.

The Herricks are just one example of Mainers who took advantage of renting a cabin, land, or just their side yard to Hipcamp campers or outdoor explorers looking for a simple cabin. or simply land in rural, often remote areas.

Hipcamp offers a more primitive and much more natural vacation – and it has been in high demand over the past couple of years as people clamored to be outdoors during the pandemic.

Nationally, Hipcamp saw a 246% increase in bookings in 2020, said Lydia Davey Crosby, senior communications manager at Hipcamp.

Maine saw a 301% increase in Hipcamp bookings in 2020, Crosby said. And while demand this year “was a bit weaker” as more entertainment options opened up after one year of COVID, Maine has seen a 120% increase this year from the first eight months of 2020 , Crosby said.

“The main difference between Maine and the rest of the country is that cabins are very popular in Maine,” said Crosby.

The Herrick Family Cabin in Bristol is a room with a bed and a sofa bed. He has no electricity. Huge picture windows that cover most of the walls bring in an abundance of natural light and a view of the trees. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Personal photographer

Tent pitches – some with epic mountain or lake views – cost between $ 20 and $ 50 a night, while off-grid cabins that are sparsely furnished typically cost around $ 90 a night.

Maine hosts, even those new to Hipcamp, say the smartphone app makes it easy and hassle-free. Guests book online and the host receives a text alert notifying them of the guest arrival.

The Herricks’ cabin is a room with a bed and a sofa bed and a mezzanine that will one day provide an upstairs bedroom. A water station with a foot pump and a small kitchen counter provide a small kitchen area. A camping stove sits outside the door under a canopy, not far from the composting dry toilet – which also has a foot-pump hand washing station.

The family considered adding electricity, but Cacy Herrick said guests voted for the minimalist approach. Instead, the Herricks provide solar lanterns and encourage headlamps. Huge picture windows that cover most of the walls bring in an abundance of natural light and a view of the trees.

The location helps make the $ 95 a night cabin a success. It’s a 10-minute drive to Pemaquid Beach and the Pemaquid Colonial State Historic Site, and a short stroll through the woods from the property owned by the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust.

“Dana would have made the cabin anyway. The pandemic gave him extra time to fence off the building. Then everyone just wanted to be outside, ”Cacy Herrick said.

“People were really looking for places far from the city and people needed a break. Every available day we have been booked so far. As long as it’s warm enough, we’ll keep it open.

Oliver and Emma Herrick explore the rock reserve of La Verna, a short walk through the woods of their family’s Hipcamp in Bristol. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Personal photographer

Chris and Patti Hamilton started their farm in Whitefield in 2000 and share a similar story. They decided to transform a hut once used for agricultural apprentices into a Hipcamp rental several years ago. They also rent it on Airbnb. But it’s clear that Hipcamp customers are looking for a rustic and natural experience.

The sparsely furnished two-room cabin has no running water or electricity and also has single-glazed windows. A few steps from the cabin, an outbuilding leans against the woods. But the hut is surrounded by views of the farm fields. Sometimes even sheep graze in front of it.

Almost immediately it was a success.

The Hamiltons closed the cabin last year due to the pandemic and the state’s mandatory quarantine for many foreigners, complicating an otherwise straightforward guesthouse business.

This summer the cabin filled up again on summer weekends and most days in July and August. It also filled up for the middle of June and September. Rental costs $ 95 per night.

“This is definitely a significant additional income for our farm,” said Chris Hamilton. “But it’s also fun having people to show off the farm. It’s fun to bring them in and find out what it is. They help feed the pigs, collect the eggs, turn the sheep in the fields.

“A lot of those people who stay with us, stay with us because we have animals. The people at Hipcamp for us tend to be families, often parents with young children.

Not all Hipcamp hosts are looking for extra income, but many have still seen an increase in business during the pandemic and are loving the homecoming vibe that accommodation brings to their country.

Bruce Fowler discovered Hipcamp soon after it was founded in 2013, when he and his wife drove to the Land Rover rendezvous in the South and looked for inexpensive places to camp.

The kind and hospitable hosts impressed Bruce Fowler so much that he decided to open his 207 acres near Unity to Hipcamp campers three years ago. He charges $ 20 to pitch a tent there.

Few have come this first year, but about a dozen showed up last year – mostly cyclists traveling through rural Maine’s interior looking to camp. This year, bookings are on the rise and for the first time, tent pitches are reserving in September.

Fowler is excited about the buzz – and has plans for more outhouses. But he’s not going to drop the price by $ 20 for a clean tent site, picnic table, and fire pit. If it does not advertise it, it also provides wood.

“We don’t do it for the money. It’s a public service, ”Fowler said. “There is absolutely no additional income. It wouldn’t even cover property taxes. I’m doing this just so that people traveling to Waldo County can stay overnight inexpensively.

“And in the over three years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had to clean up after anyone.” I have never found more than a wrapper of candy.

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